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Amnesty International (AI) on Wednesday reported torture and serious rights abuses across Central Asia, and said the human rights situation in Uzbekistan remained dire. Uzbekistan and the other four former Soviet states in the region - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan - were quick to offer assistance to the US post-11 September.

Washington accepted speedily, basing thousands of troops in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan for operations in nearby Afghanistan, and has greatly increased its contacts with the region, formerly seen as exclusively in Russia's sphere of influence. But despite heavy US emphasis on rights and democracy, and the fact that a string of top-level visitors last year stressed rights at length to the region's leaders, AI catalogued repeated abuses. Serious rights abuses were also noted in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, with AI saying that at least two detainees had died in suspicious circumstances in Kazakhstan, while executions continued there in large numbers.

On the same day as the AI report was published, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) envoy and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari said during a visit to the capital, Ashgabat, that Turkmenistan should engage more with the international community. "I urge the government to use the opportunities which the international community offers, which they have missed," Ahtisaari said after meeting Turkmen officials, including Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov.

Among the topics discussed had been the importance of free and fair trials, monitoring of prison conditions by the International Committee of the Red Cross, and a recent increase in Turkmen citizens who had been refused exit visas needed to travel from the country, Ahtisaari told journalists. His visit follows the publication of an OSCE report criticising Turkmen President Saparmyrat Niyazov's involvement in a wave of repression after an alleged coup attempt last November. "The contrast between the law as it is presented and the reality marked by terror and fear is mind-boggling," the document by the OSCE rapporteur, Emmanuel Decaux, read.

Following the arrest of a local journalist and human rights campaigner on charges of homosexuality and buying sex from an underage boy in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, on Monday, the editor-in-chief of the Kazakh opposition-oriented SolDat newspaper, Ermurat Bapi, told a news conference in the commercial capital, Almaty, on Wednesday, that he had resigned.

Bapi said he had been forced to take such a decision due to pressure from the government. "I have got accurate information that my presence in the newspaper is annoying the authorities. Possibly, my resignation will calm down the initiators of persecution launched against the newspaper and this [resignation] will save SolDat for the readers," he added. Bapi has headed the newspaper since its creation four years ago. Known for its critical writing, the newspaper has faced numerous lawsuits, an attack on its office and assaults on its staff.

The Kazakh government had allocated around US $3 million as part of immediate measures to clear up after the earthquake that struck southern areas of Kazakhstan on 23 May, killing at least three people, Prime Minister Imangali Tasmagambetov told Itar-Tass on Wednesday. Special commissions operating in the southern Zhambyl region are trying to establish the extent of the damage. Comprehensive restoration work will start after this. "Schools and health facilities have to be restored in the first place," the prime minister said.

Zhambyl Regional Governor Serik Umbetov told a government meeting that 4,175 of the 7,320 houses at the site of the earthquake had been completely destroyed. Over 20,500 people were made homeless and only 9,000 of these have been provided with a temporary shelter. The government has decided to draw up, in a month's time, a state programme for preventing disasters and clearing up their aftermath.

Tajikistan had received about $50 million worth of humanitarian aid in the first three months of this year, the local news agency Varorud reported this week, quoting the State Statistics Committee. A total of 99,700 mt of humanitarian aid was provided by 32 countries. The bulk of the received humanitarian aid was made up of flour - 39,500 mt. Foreign countries also sent foodstuffs, clothes, bedding, medicine and medical equipment, building materials, vehicles, oil products and fertilisers through international and local organisations to support Tajikistan's population.

The USA was the biggest donor - it provided 53 percent of the overall volume of humanitarian aid, Latvia - 14.7 percent, Korea - 3.2 percent, China and Germany - 2.5 percent each. Uzbekistan was the biggest donor among the CIS states - it provided 6.8 percent of the overall volume of humanitarian aid, Russia - 3.7 percent, Kazakhstan 3.1 percent, Ukraine - 0.9 percent and Kyrgyzstan - 0.6 percent.

In a bid to step up disarmament in southern Tajikistan, law-enforcement agencies had confiscated two machine guns, 80 assault rifles, 28 pistols, 10 mines and about 22,000 rounds of ammunition in the Khatlon Region in the first three months of the year, Varorud reported on Wednesday. It said "the search for arms caches in the areas where military actions took place during the civil war of 1992-97 is continuing".

The report added that criminal cases had been opened against those who refused to hand in their weapons voluntarily. The fight against drug trafficking had also been stepped up and over half a tonne of drugs, mostly heroin, had been seized in the region during this period, the agency said.

And in an indication of an ongoing crackdown on extremism, six members of the banned Islamic party Hizb-ut-Tahrir (Liberation Party) had been arrested in northern Tajikistan, the Tajik police force said on Friday. The activists had been arrested over the past two days while distributing leaflets calling for the creation of an independent Islamic state in Central Asia, a police spokesman said.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir is a secretive organisation aiming to unite all Muslims in a caliphate ruled by Islamic shari'ah law. It emerged in the Middle East and spread to Central Asia in the 1990s. The group says it does not advocate violence, but Tajik officials have accused Hizb-ut-Tahrir of having links with Al-Qaeda. Since beginning a crackdown on Hizb-ut-Tahrir in 2000, Tajik authorities have detained about 140 people. About 100 have received jail terms.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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